By the time we got to the national championship races in 1936 at the Poughkeepsie Regatta, Brown had paced the story flawlessly and I relieved every moment of the four-mile odyssey with the Washington crew. I felt my own pulse starting to race as the boys' hearts beat faster throughout the race.
And then Brown managed it again at the Olympic Games in Berlin and Grünau, slowing the agonizing pace of the 2,000-meter medal race, making the description of the race last easily as long as the race itself took. From the unfair lane assignments, to the worst-possible weather conditions, to the devastating illness of the lead stroke, to the presence of Hitler and the entire Nazi Party elite to witness Germany's triumph, the narrative had me teary-eyed by the end. An exhilarating story.
Perhaps it's no surprise that this story comes to us from the same era as one of my other favorite underdog sports stories, that of Seabiscuit, who was just beginning his career as the Washington boys were finishing theirs.
From the publisher: Out of the depths of the Depression comes the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant. With rowers who were the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington's eight-oar crew was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by challenging the German boat rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without a family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys' own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man's personal quest.